If you want to learn more about English mechanics, this is the article for you. You'll learn what the main aspects of mechanics are, how to use them in your writing, and why you should.
This article is part of our free online Grammar Book.
English mechanics provide a way to standardize writing so that you may get your message across effectively. They're the rules you look to when you're unsure which punctuation to use or whether to capitalize a word, to mention just a couple of examples.
In other words, they cover the technical aspects of writing in English. It's like when you have a car. You may know how to drive it, but there are mechanics involved, too, if you want to keep your vehicle on the road. Do your tires meet the legal requirements? Do you have the right level of oil? How should you position your seat? These mechanical aspects ensure you can drive your car safely and according to legal standards.
So why should you care about English mechanics? Well, I think it's safe to say that when you write, you want to be understood by your readers, right? You don't want to be misunderstood, do you? That's what understanding mechanics will help you to do. It ensures you express yourself with accuracy.
The four main aspects of English mechanics include:
Let's take a look at these one by one.
Word order, also known as sentence patterns, tells us which order we should place the words in our sentence. You can't just place words wherever you like, as this affects the sentence's meaning. In order to communicate effectively, you must know that certain parts of speech must be placed in specific parts of the sentence.
The most basic sentence pattern is:
[Subject] + [Verb]
That could look like this:
I am sleeping.
You might want to add other parts of speech to make your sentence more complex. There are sentence patterns for these cases, too. For instance, if you want to add an adjective, you should remember to always place it before the subject. And objects come after the subject and verb.
Here are some more example sentence patterns:
[Subject] + [Verb] + [Adjective] + [Noun]
I used brown sugar.
[Adjective] + [Subject] + [Verb] + [Adverb]
The excited puppy barked loudly.
[Subject] + [Verb] + [Direct Object]
I study English mechanics.
[Subject] + [Verb] + [Indirect Object] + [Direct Object]
We sent everyone an invitation.
These are just a few of the possible combinations. If you'd like to learn more, check out our blog on sentence patterns.
Knowing whether or not to capitalize or word can be tricky business. Also, different style guides might advocate for slightly different practices.
There are seven instances when you should use a capital letter at the beginning of a word, and those are:
I'm sure I don't have to tell you spelling is a major aspect of English mechanics and is essential in getting your message across accurately. One big reason for this is that English words don't tend to be spelled the way they sound, so you'll need to be familiar with spelling conventions in order to avoid errors.
As well as this, there are homophones to content with: words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Getting the spelling right for these words is key so your reader knows what you mean.
Look at the following words, for example:
The spelling makes all the difference here because when you hear them out loud, they sound like the same word, but when you write them down, you see they are different.
Of course, a spellchecker can always help with this, and we're lucky to live in an age where these are available, so we can ensure our writing is error-free before publishing/handing it in. But it's good practice to familiarize yourself with the different spelling rules over time so that you're not entirely relying on your spellchecker.
To learn more about the spelling rules, check out our article on the topic.
Without punctuation, our writing would just be a jumbled-up mess of words; it would be impossible to make any sense of it.
There are three different types of punctuation:
Exclamation points, question marks, and periods are the three kinds of punctuation you can use to end a sentence. They help the reader know if you're expressing emotion, asking a question, or simply making a statement.
Here's an example sentence for each of these:
Oh wow, that's great news!
What's your name?
Sorry to hear that you lost your job.
Most kinds of punctuation are intended to mark a pause or separate a piece of information from the rest of the sentence. Some of the most commonly used ones are commas, colons, semicolons, and parentheses.
Let's take a look at what these look like in a sentence:
I'd like a blueberry muffin, a flat white and a glass of water, please.
Today we're going to be discussing a topic dear to my heart: English mechanics.
She's skipping movie night; she isn't a big fan of the action genre.
Everything I set out to do today (clean the house, fix my car and eat a nourishing meal) was a complete and utter success.
This category's pretty straightforward: it's the kind of punctuation that allows you to demark quotations in your writing. These are called quotation marks. You can use either single or double quotation marks. The former tends to be more common in countries that use British English, and American English-speaking countries prefer the latter.
You can use quotations to directly quote what someone said, report dialogue, mention titles of works, or set words apart from the rest of the text.
Here are some examples:
"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned in life: It goes on." — Robert Frost
She asked, "Do you know anyone here?"
John Donne's poem "No Man Is an Island" really resonated with me.
He was nicknamed "The King of Pop".
The English language is very versatile. Though it contains a wide variety of words, we'll often use the same word in different ways to mean something different. That's where apostrophes and hyphens come in.
Apostrophes allow you to contract a word or form possessive nouns:
I've never been so happy to see you in my life.
The young girl's speech was very moving.
Hyphens can be used to create compound words, connect a word with its prefix, and for numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine:
We live in a fast-paced world and it can be difficult to slow down.
They host a bi-annual gala.
In my class of thirty-six students there are only three boys.
Slashes are used to show a contrast or a connection between two things:
Do you take sugar/milk?
Brackets allow you to add edits, comments, or further explanations for something you have said:
To learn about the other punctuation marks not discussed here, visit our Grammar Book. We have an entire section on punctuation.
We've covered the main aspects of English mechanics, but there are others too. Many grammarians disagree on what constitutes mechanics vs grammar, so what you're reading here is just our take on what constitutes the building blocks of English mechanics.
But don't worry; there's no need to get stuck on semantics. The important thing is that you're familiar with all the rules, whether mechanics or grammar, and this is something you'll accomplish over time just by practicing and reading all our Grammar Book articles.
Abbreviations are shortened versions of words. They're not typically used in formal writing, but you will see them around, so it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with them. Plus, you can also use them in your writing to shorten your text/save time.
Here are some different examples of abbreviations:
Did you see that ad on TV for the new iPhone?
He's from the FBI.
They're raising money for UNICEF.
I honestly had to LOL when he said that.
To learn more about abbreviations, check out our article on the topic.
Most prefixes and suffixes are standardized, so learning about them can mean you'll be able to decode a word's meaning, even if you've never seen the word before. How cool is that?
For example, here are some prefixes that give the word its opposite meaning:
Here are some examples of common suffixes that change a word into a noun:
If you want to learn more about prefixes and suffixes, we've got an article that covers everything you need to know. Check it out here.
Nouns can be either singular or plural. Their basic form is singular; to pluralize them, you must follow a certain set of rules.
Sometimes it's as simple as adding -es to the end of the word, like for words ending in -s, -ss, -sh, -ch, or -x.
Sometimes you'll have the option to add either -es or -s, like with words ending in -o.
And other times yet, you'll need to change some of the letters in the word first. That might look like adding a -z and then the plural ending:
Or changing the -v to an -f:
So yes, the rules are a bit more complex than simply adding an -s or an -es, like many would like to believe. I would like to believe that myself, as it would make life much easier!
To learn about pluralization rules in more depth, check out this article.
That concludes this article on English mechanics. I hope you found it helpful.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you found this article helpful and would like to learn more, check out our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles just like this one.
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